Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire Ultimate Edition Review — Rough Seas in a Tropical Paradise
The console port of Obsidian's Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire has the same great story, characters, and gameplay of the PC version but is marred by technical problems and load times.
Obsidian is finally making its isometric return to consoles with Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire Ultimate Edition.
Deadfire, originally released on PC in May of 2018, sees you back in the role of the Watcher, your character from the first game. A few years have passed and you rejoin your character in the aftermath of the destruction of their home with their life hanging on by a thread. Eothas, the God of Rebirth, has inhabited a giant stone statue that was below the Watcher’s castle of Caed Nua. His awakening lays waste to all around him, and in the process steals souls from anyone near, including half of your own. So great a threat Eothas poses that the god Berath, the Pallid Knight of the pantheon of gods, has returned the remaining part of your soul to your body in exchange for doing her a little favor. A simple task really: you just have to stop the giant god rampaging the world.
You will be taking to the high seas on board your very own ship, chasing Eothas around the Deadfire Archipelago. Along the way you’ll parlay with various factions, negotiate with traders, do battle with pirates, and recruit adventurers as you go. This new ship-based exploration is one of the defining features that set Pillars of Eternity 2 apart from its predecessor.
The Defiant, and subsequent ships you can purchase, add a new perspective and sense of scale to the world. You have direct control of your vessel as it sails through the waves. When you encounter other ships, you have a number of options open to you. You can board them and assault them with your crew, or you can keep the battle at a distance firing your cannons back-and-forth while keeping yourself in a tactically superior position. These additions make you have to think about how you are going to spend your gold on upgrading your party or your boat. Customizing your ship’s appearance, upgrading its equipment, and leveling up the crew became a favorite past time of mine in the Deadfire Archipelago. By the end of your adventure, your ship will be just as much a part of your team as any of the warm bodies you take ashore.
Deadfire Ultimate brings to consoles all the previously released DLC, including new story content and new modes. This includes the three story expansions, the super bosses, and much more. You also have access to the added combat mode which changes combat into a more tactical, turn-based affair. When all is tallied, you have yourself a pretty full package here.
My time sailing around the Deadfire Archipelago as Captain Jack VanderSmack was filled with adventure, friends, and fraught with danger and load screens. Prior to this review, I hadn’t yet played this tale in Eora. I’ve played and thoroughly enjoyed the first title. It was the first game in a long time that had scratched that same Dungeons & Dragons itch that other legendary titles had. I was excited to jump back in and see where this new story would take me. This time around, however, turned out to be much more of a mixed bag.
The ability to bring over your character from the first Pillars is missing from this console release, unfortunately. In its place, when you create your character you will be given the opportunity to select the results of important plot points from the first game. It’s not ideal, but it still worked well enough for me to create my own character.
From a narrative and gameplay level, the console port of Deadfire held me firmly in its grasp. The mysteries and lore kept me constantly excited to play more. I also chose the turn-based style of combat for my main game. This setting makes encounters much more tactical, giving you time to think and set up attacks and strategies. Fans of the original style, the option to have everyone act concurrently but allowing you to pause time to issue direct commands, is still available. You have to decide which option you want from the start, as you aren’t able to swap back and forth in Deadfire. I started a second character just to test out the original mode, and it was just as I remember it from the previous game. Battles play out much faster, but in larger encounters, it can be difficult to keep track of everyone. In this mode, most players will have to rely on the competency of your team’s AI settings. Luckily though, the AI for all of your characters can be customized and tweaked, similar to Final Fantasy XII’s Gambit System.
The islands of the Deadfire Archipelago are tropical, littered with sand-buried ruins, caves with hidden areas accessible via underwater tunnels, and grand sun-bleached cities for you to explore. It’s a stark departure from the Dyrwood of the first game. You will be exploring all of this with either the unique characters you come across during the story or hiring pre-made or custom made characters in the various towns. I’ve always loved being able to make my friends in RPGs. The fact that I can now make them and pilot a pirate ship around Eora is even better. When one of my friends does something stupid in our weekly D&D campaign, I can simply assign him to an annoying task on the Defiant as punishment.
On the technical side, Deadfire fares far worse with the loading times being of particular note. The areas you explore in the Pillars titles are composed of various zones that are linked together. This approach isn’t uncommon for games of a similar ilk (Baldur’s Gate and Neverwinter Nights), nor is it bad. Unfortunately, with Deadfire, changing zones will lead to a static loading screen that will halt your questing for anywhere between 30 seconds to nearly a minute.
If you are hoping that returning to the location you had just been in would result in shorter load times, I have some bad news for you, friend. These long load times can result in you spending more time on the loading screen then it takes to explore smaller areas. Considering the large cities are composed of numerous shops, taverns, inns, and areas of interest that are only accessible via these transitions, it’s hard to get excited exploring when you know what you can look forward to.
I was also on the receiving end of some other, more game-halting, glitches during my playthrough. Numerous times I encountered a glitch where my radial menu simply wouldn’t respond, making accessing any of the game’s menus impossible. Once, while attempting to level up my characters, the cursor simply stopped responding, preventing me from selecting a skill to learn, locking me out actually leveling up. The only thing that would fix this issue was closing the game entirely and restarting it, which then let me enjoy a 2-minute long static loading screen before getting to play again. And on a few occasions, Pillars of Eternity 2 would simply crash. This happened most often after entering combat shortly after resuming gameplay after taking my PS4 out of sleep mode.
For as much I may enjoy the gameplay and story, I can’t deny that all the issues I encountered really marred my experience with Deadfire. I also saw some other minor graphical glitches earlier on, but luckily, a pre-release patch released that addressed most of these issues. I’m hoping that Obsidian will continue to patch this game, focusing on reducing the loading times, ideally.
Sailing around and discovering new islands to claim as my own never got old. Whenever I came across unsuspecting pirates or merchants on the open seas, it was a thrill. It made for perfect chances for Captain Jack and crew to relieve some individuals of their wares…and lives. I constantly wanted to keep crafting new potions and poisons while scavenging for resources to enchant and enhance my equipment. My own Jack VanderSmack deserves nothing but the finest, after all.
There is a lot to love here in Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire. This release on home consoles may be stumbling out of the gate, but I remain optimistic that the issues mentioned will be fixed in upcoming patches. I’m still definitely looking forward to future playthroughs of my own in Eora.